(PANCAP Coordinating Unit, CARICOM Secretariat): The Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS, PANCAP, Meeting of Caribbean Youth Leaders – Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS, received a stirring keynote address from Senator the Hon. Robert T.L.V. Browne, Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Chair of the Executive Board of PANCAP.
Senator Browne stated that he is an example of a young person occupying an office at the highest level and challenged the over 60 participants to pursue opportunities at the policymaking level to make an impact on how youth access sexual and reproductive health services.
'As youth, we have a powerful voice', stated Senator Browne, 'using your platform to start a conversation on why youth are not effectively accessing sexual and reproductive health services is the pathway to getting action from policymakers. As Minister of Health and Chair of the PANCAP Board, I stand with you on urging policymakers to participate in the current conversation on youth, sexual health and HIV'.
Senator Browne further noted that 'young people are not restricted to youth organisations. They can occupy parliamentary positions and serve as chairs on boards. We have a powerful platform as youth; we must use it to full capacity'.
The senator also stated that he is encouraged by the progress being made to end AIDS and referred to the significant advancement in reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. 'We should all be encouraged by this', stated the Senator, 'this is clear evidence that we are coming soon to the end of the disease'.
Senator Browne also advocated for a review of the age of consent not being aligned with the age when most young people are allowed to access sexual and reproductive health services. 'The disparity between the age of consent and access to sexual health services is a shame' stated Senator Browne, 'as young people, we must challenge policymakers to review this since it has a direct impact on young people contracting HIV and AIDS'.
The Senator acknowledged the diversity of young people attending the meeting and commended Mr. Dereck Springer, Director, PANCAP and Dr. Edward Greene, United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean, on their significant work with youth and faith-based organisations, which form part of PANCAP's Champions for Change initiative.
The focus of the meeting was a discussion on the role of youth in the national and regional response to HIV and AIDS; participants were also involved in formulating and agreeing on a framework for regional youth advocacy.
The participating countries included Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, The Commonwealth of Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The event facilitated in-depth discussions about sexual health issues affecting young people and the barriers to accessing sexual health services. The meeting also encompassed identifying what knowledge and tools they require to protect themselves from HIV.
The meeting, which was funded by the Global Fund and PAHO, forms part of a wider intervention programme created by PANCAP for Youth Advocacy. The programme also includes youth advocacy training, facilitating youth leaders' participation in high-level meetings to influence policy decisions affecting youth and the development of a regional youth advocacy network.